Pope John Paul II, this is Ted Turner.
Ted Turner, will you please introduce yourself to Pope John Paul II?
What? Yes, surely he has heard your joke about the Polish mine detector. But the pope needs to hear more about your Aug. 29 sermon at the United Nations. That was the one in which you warned that faiths that claim exclusive truths about heaven and hell are preaching hate and intolerance and that their doctrines could cause a global nuclear holocaust.
Turner and John Paul would have a lot to talk about right now if they met. They are addressing some of the same questions, but offering radically different answers. The Vatican released a major document focusing on truth and salvation just one week after Turner spoke at the Millennium World Peace Summit of Religious and Spiritual Leaders, which was the brainchild of the CNN founder and billionaire U.N. benefactor.
From Turner's point of view, "Dominus Jesus (Lord Jesus)" is heresy.
It proclaims: "The Church, guided by charity and respect for freedom, must be primarily committed to proclaiming to all people the truth definitively revealed by the Lord, and to announcing the necessity of conversion to Jesus Christ and of adherence to the Church through Baptism and the other sacraments, in order to participate fully in communion with God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit."
So it's wrong, argues the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to say that all religions are true, even if their teachings contradict one another. It's wrong to say that Christianity offers one path to salvation, among many. "Dominus Jesus" argues: "One can and must say that Jesus Christ has a significance and a value for the human race ... which are unique and singular, proper to him alone, exclusive, universal and absolute."
Press coverage of this document has focused on the Vatican's renewed claims that Roman Catholicism is the true and fullest expression of Christianity. But, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger told the Italian press, it was primarily a response to pluralists -- inside and outside the church -- who view Christian claims of exclusive truth as "a bit of fundamentalism which is an attack on the modern spirit and a menace to toleration and liberty."
Turner would certainly number himself among those critics. In his speech to 1,000-plus clergy at the U.N., he attacked precisely this kind of truth claim. Once upon a time, stressed Turner, he was a Bible Belt boy who wanted to be a missionary. But then he decided that his tiny sect was wrong.
"I studied Christianity and I studied the world's great religions," he said. "I was always thinking. What disturbed me is that my religious Christian sect was very intolerant. Not intolerant of religious freedom for other people, but we thought that we were the only ones going to heaven. ... It just confused the devil out of me because I said heaven is going to be a mighty empty place, with nobody else there."
Turner eventually reached the very conclusion rejected by "Dominus Jesus." He decided, "Instead of all of these different gods, I thought maybe that there's one God who manifests himself and reveals himself in different ways to different people. What about that?"
For Turner, it's the true believers who are convinced they worship the one true Savior, who has revealed to them the one true path to heaven, who have been the primary source of evil and bloodshed throughout history. It's dangerous, he said, for powerful people to hold such beliefs in a world containing "nuclear weapons and poison gas and land mines."
So here is Turner's final word for the pope and others who cling to traditions built on claims of absolute, transcendent truths. The modern world cannot afford to tolerate their ancient doctrines.
"There is only one God who manifests himself in different ways," said Turner. "It's time to get rid of hatred. It's time to get rid of prejudice. It's time to have love and respect and tolerance for each other. Care about each other. Work together to survive. I can't believe that God wants us to blow ourselves to kingdom come."